246. What Pleases the Prince: The Rule of Law

Posted on 31 January 2016

Natural law and political legitimacy in thirteenth century thinkers up to and including Thomas Aquinas.

Further Reading

• R.J. Henle (ed. and trans.), St Thomas Aquinas: the Treatise on Law (Notre Dame: 1993).


• J. Finnis, Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory (Oxford: 1988).

• J. Goyette, M. Latvic, and R.S. Myers (eds), St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition: Contemporary Perspectives (Washington DC: 2004).

• M.M. Keys, Aquinas, Aristotle and the Promise of the Common Good (Cambridge: 2006).

• A. Lisska, Aquinas’ Theory of Natural Law: An Analytic Reconstruction (Oxford: 1996).

• O. Lottin, Le droit naturel chez St Thomas d’Aquin es ses prédécesseurs (Bruges: 1931).

• D.M. Nelson, The Priority of Prudence: Virtue and Natural Law in Thomas Aquinas and the Implications for Modern Ethics (University Park PA: 1992).


Esherman 29 September 2020

Great episode! I was wondering about the comment the on Aquinas's treatise wondering "how much of it is from his pen". You note that is bears the hallmarks of his Aistotelian approach, but what aspects of the treatise cause scholars to doubt he actually wrote it? (Also, is it the De Regno?)

Thank you!

Yes, that is the text I meant. I think that the worry is basically just that some of the ideas don't fit with what he says elsewhere, but I don't have this clearly in my memory anymore I'm afraid. Consulting my notes for the episode I see that Finnis, Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory has a discussion of De Regno at 228 and following, with authenticity discussed at 246; and also that Keys, Keys, Aquinas, Aristotle and the Promise of the Common Good, 64, argues that most of it is not by him. Sorry I can't dredge the details out of my brain, I guess I replaced it with some piece of information about the Italian Renaissance!

Jayasuryan 12 June 2021

the idea that the prince should have his powers implemented by officers reminds me of confucian thought on the emperor being a central point that organises his ministers, who themselves are the ones who use these powers. It's just something I didn't expect would be shared between the two belief systems and it makes me wonder how similar the two systems are to each other. Bit open ended I know.

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